19th Century Gentleman

Stand Out by Being a Little Old-Fashioned

19th Century Gentleman
19th Century Gentleman, by angulope

Dear Son,

I am not a particularly old-fashioned man in many respects.  I don’t much like conformity, and I definitely go against the grain of the mainstream with a lot of my ideas.  I enjoy pop culture – in small doses – even when it changes a long way from what I grew up enjoying. I love the avant-garde, strange, and new – although sometimes only to mock it.  I definitely hope that I will be able to enjoy the music, books, comics, and games that you discover as a teen.

But as I have said before, there are some trends and fashions in our society that just defy appreciation.  Rudeness, being aggrieved, attention-mongering, and strident down-talking are very popular with the intellectual crowd, and that is one place where I have no interest in being on the cutting edge.  Nor am I interested in any intellectual movement that demands we shut up or silence the free speech of other people, even if we don’t like what they are saying, which seems to be the trend of the day.

When it comes to manners, to being respectful, and to the way you speak and listen to others, I’ll take being old-fashioned any day of the week.  In fact, being old-fashioned in some ways makes me stand out in a very good light.  There are a lot of things you can do that will make a good first impression on others:

Have a hearty handshake: The trick is to press the web of your thumb to yours before you clasp their hand, then push down gently with your thumb, and to shake two or three times.  This helps people see you as strong and honest.

Take your hat off indoors: boys everywhere chafe at this rule, but taking your hat off is a sign of respect for others.  It means you are not hiding your face, and you are not trying to show off your wealth or power (in the past, rich men always wore nicer hats.)  And when you do wear it, at least tip it when you say hello to others, if not take it off for a moment.  Taking off my hat surprises people because it is such a rare gesture – it is a nicety they no longer expect, much like holding the door for others, inviting a person in a hurry to go ahead of you in line, or tipping delivery boys and barbers.

Listen actively: these days people try to talk over the folks they don’t agree with. Listening to other people is a dying art.  Because of this a person who listens, nods, encourages people to keep talking,  and asks questions so that they are sure about what they heard are rare. And yet everyone is dying to be listened to, not just heard.  And it won’t kill you to hear something you don’t agree with, so let them talk.  At worst your own ideas might be challenged, and at best, you might understand for certain why you don’t agree with them.

Be handy: I try to have a knife, some matches, and some bandages on me at all times.  We live in an age of convenience, and because of it simple jobs that every man used to know how to do, like changing a tire or oil, fixing a broken power cord, or cleaning a wound seem to have been lost.  Being the guy who knows how to step up and take care of a problem, and has at least a few things to implement it is a leader by default.   I am going to make sure you have a good knife, a few other helpful everyday carry items, and I am going to teach you how to fix a wire, a running toilet, to do basic maintenance on a car, and do first aid.  Smartphones be damned, I prefer to only have to call someone up because the problem is big and worth their time to help me fix.

Focus on your word: some people are happy to lie, fib, exaggerate, and make promises whenever it suits them.  They don’t see their words as having any relationship to how much other people trust them, which makes them damned fools.  If you are honest about not wanting to make promises, willing to say “I don’t know” when you don’t,  and keep the promises you do make, other people wind find you refreshingly trustworthy.  And you will hold yurself in higher esteem because you have integrity.

Use honorifics: We rarely call people “Mr.”, “Miss”, “Missus”, “Doctor”, or “Miz” anymore.  People tend to introduce themselves by their first names, and expect you to call them by it, and expect you to do the same.  But if a person gives you their full name, the tradition is to wait until you are invited to use their given name.  A man who introduces himself as Steven Jones should be “Mr. Jones”, not “Steven”, or “Steve”, until you are invited to call him that.  This is good manners because you are not this person’s friend or confidante, using his first name used to be reserved only for that.  And while Canadians may have become very informal, that doesn’t mean people from abroad have become.  Learning to be formal until you are invited to be otherwise shows discretion.

Show gratitude: saying “thank you”, and appreciating what others have done for your benefit seems to be painfully unfashionable right now.  Some people want o change the present so fast now that they like to pretend that there is no past, and nothing to appreciate about their parents, about school, about society, or anything else.  Saying “thank you” and showing a little gratitude to anyone for anything seems like a step back to them.  But they are missing out, because gratitude is powerful, not just to make a good impression on others, but to make you feel good about yourself.

A little old-fashioned polish goes a long way to help you impress, earn the trust of, and build rapport with new people, and put old acquaintances at ease around you.



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